Amcham: How has this Corona virus pandemic impacted the mission and management of the University of Luxembourg?
Professor Pallage: The Covid-19 pandemic has indeed had a significant impact on the activities of the University and especially on the teaching. However, the University has never stopped its activities, going from face-to-face to remote teaching and remote work over one weekend. Researchers have never ceased their research activities, even if they have sometimes had to substitute some projects for others. Our third mission, of service to the country, intensified with the mobilization of researchers in the Covid-19 Task Force and participation in public debate. A crisis unit provided crisis management and initiated numerous measures to limit the risks for the university community while preserving the continuity of activities.
Amcham: How has this Corona Virus pandemic impacted the students and what steps have you taken to mitigate the adverse consequences on the student learning experience?
Professor Pallage: Students needed to adapt quickly and learn in new ways from one day to another. Moreover, many who had jobs were not able to keep these. For some students, this created financial difficulties. But above all, students were missing their contacts and suffered from isolation.
We took a number of measures to address these issues. To ensure effective hybrid teaching, the University invested significantly in installing live streaming equipment in the lecture halls. Teaching staff received intensive support for the digitalisation of their lectures and for live remote courses; students were offered tutorials for distance learning. We intensified various financial support services for our students and offered the deferral of rents and even food vouchers. In addition, an online mental health and therapy platform for students and staff as well as activities against social isolation have been set up. I personally keep in regular email contact with our students to explain our measures and to provide encouragement.
Amcham: Luxembourg has historically had a relatively lower percentage of high school students attending colleges or universities as compared to surrounding European countries. To what extent is the existence of the University of Luxembourg addressing this situation?
Professor Pallage: I am convinced that the proximity to a university is an important factor in raising the educational level of the population. Thanks to the creation of the University of Luxembourg, even those who could not afford to go abroad can now obtain a university degree which is required for more and more jobs. In this sense, our University is also an instrument of social mobility.
Amcham: What is the most popular field of studies at the undergraduate level? What are the offerings and relative popularity of the post graduate master’s degree and Doctoral studies programs?
Professor Pallage: Traditionally, fields such as business, administration and law as well as social sciences, including economics, are in high demand at both Bachelor and Master levels, followed by educational sciences and humanities. There is also an important increase in interest for the scientific fields (Engineering, Mathematics, Computer Sciences) at the Bachelor and Master level.
With regard to Doctoral studies, by far the largest proportion, around 550 out of our 920 doctoral students, are doing their PhD at the Doctoral School in Sciences and Engineering, consisting of seven programmes such as Civil, Mechanical, Electrical or ICT Engineering, Mathematics, Physics and Material Sciences, Biomedicine as well as Data and Computational Sciences. Moreover, a Master in Technopreneurship will start in February 2022.
Amcham: Please explain to our readers the situation with the establishment of a regime of medical studies at the University of Luxembourg? What is the plan and how long will it take?
Professor Pallage: Medical education at the University of Luxembourg is an important service to society. It aims at preventing a shortage of medical doctors and at securing the country’s medical independence. We took a step-by-step approach, starting with the complete Bachelor in Medicine, launched in September 2020, and followed by the launch of specialist trainings such as neurology and oncology to be offered in September 2021. The decision on the completion of the medical education curriculum by a Master’s programme will be taken after an evaluation and not before 2025.
Amcham: What other new courses of study are in development and with what timelines?
Professor Pallage: As of September 2021, we will launch a Master in Data Science, a new study track on Digital Transformation in Finance within the Master of Science in Finance and Economics, a study track in Digital Procurement within the Master in Logistics and Supply Chain Management, offered in collaboration with MIT, as well as a Certificate in Sustainable Finance.
Amcham: What is your SWOT analysis of the current situation of the University of Luxembourg?
Professor Pallage: One of our key strengths is our interdisciplinarity. Unlike most universities, which are organised in disciplinary silos, we were born with a DNA of interdisciplinarity. None of the problems facing humanity today, e.g. climate change, or the COVID-19 pandemic, can be successfully addressed through the lens of a single discipline. We believe that innovation is at its highest potential when a physicist talks to an economist who talks to a computer scientist. Then we open the window to ground-breaking improvements in knowledge.
One of our key challenges is to generalise interdisciplinarity also in teaching and learning. We have to develop programmes that are flexible and that train students for jobs that do not yet exist. Another challenge is to always remain young and agile, even as we develop and mature.
The high demand for study programmes with a convincing digital profile is a real opportunity. Many future students will be attracted to those universities that embrace the digital age and its opportunities. Given that our University is already home to internationally recognized digital experts, our offer of attractive study programmes as well as state of the art services such as our Learning Centre, a new library experience dedicated to digital education, means we are well positioned to take advantage of this opportunity.
Amcham: What are the challenges you face attracting inbound high-quality students and professors from outside Luxembourg?
Professor Pallage: We are recruiting professors from all over the world; we have 90 nationalities among our research and teaching staff and 129 nationalities among students. The United States could be more represented in our student body. We offer high quality education at very low tuition fees (in general, 400 Euros per semester in the first year, then 200 Euros per semester). Our main challenge is that the University of Luxembourg is still a well-kept secret in the United States.
Amcham: Please answer the one or two most important (to you) questions you would have liked to be asked that we have not asked?
Professor Pallage: What do we want for our graduates? The University of Luxembourg now counts more than 15000 alumni. We look forward to hearing from their achievements in the next years, we welcome their insights, feedback and support to make this University an ever-better study experience and community. I would like our graduates to become true partners. Their trust in our University makes me very proud, and I would like them to know that they will always be part of our community.
Many thanks Professor Pallage for this interview!